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A food critic's commitment problem nearly derails her un-fatting

Over the last few months, I went from the worst shape of my life to the best while continuing to eat like a food critic. Don't punch me in the face; instead, read how I did it in this series:

It's been almost a year since that full-length mirror-initiated wake-up call sent me to Jamie Atlas, Bonza Bodies owner and personal trainer, with a plea that he help me un-fat my ass without forcing me to quit my job. Things went swimmingly for a long time, and I dropped pounds and toned up while continuing to indulge in booze, bacon and butter, my three favorite food groups.

And then, three months ago, I hit a wall.

More specifically, I did an abrupt and lengthy about-face, undoing plenty of hard work and adding more padding to my love handles in the process.

It was probably inevitable. Moderation is a weak spot in my personal development, so after months of dabbling with the notion of balance, it was just a matter of time before I'd tell the middle ground to go fuck itself and head right back to the extreme end of the spectrum, embracing glorious hedonism and eating and drinking whatever I wanted -- mostly some form of the three aforementioned food groups -- whenever I wanted, which is basically all day every day.

Adding fuel to the fire, I became skeptical of Jamie's plan altogether. In a way, I get paid to think about food all day every day, and I spend hours analyzing experiences and parsing them out, determining what's worth eating in this town and what's not. And even if I don't write about it as much, I also spend a significant amount of time mulling over sources of food, food systems and where food fits into politics. Those topics were, after all, the basis of my undergraduate degree, and they remain an undying passion.

Ironically, though, Jamie's food plan had me doing the opposite of thinking about food -- instead, I was blindly following a diet created by someone else. Even if it was a food plan that encapsulated my employment duties and seemed to work, I began to bristle defensively every time Jamie asked me, "So, how's food going?"

And so I rebelled, reverting right back to my old self, a person who really likes eating dessert for breakfast, choosing mac and cheese as a side, and finishing her Tuesday night with a nightcap.

Jamie was not pleased. In fact, he threatened to break up with me, giving me a wake-up call of his own in which he suggested that he'd possibly done all he could do for me and perhaps we needed to go our separate ways for a while.

I shrugged, flippantly. And then I took a self-imposed break from Bonza.

Some things had changed since I first started down this road, though, and one was a commitment to fitness. In the beginning, Jamie dragged me kicking and screaming into exercise, plying me with short, effective workouts when I refused to run, bike, swim, lift weights or really do any movement at all for an hour. So imagine my surprise when I found myself performing some sort of physical activity at least five times a week, even without my trainer and boot-camp classmates fueling my competitive insanity to out-athlete everyone around me.

And while I found myself questioning Jamie's plan, I found my interest in creating a sustainable lifestyle renewed -- it just needed to be one that came from a place of personal acceptance. Without getting too I-have-a-lot-of-feelings-because-I'm-overcoming-adversity-oriented, I had reached a critical juncture: Jamie really had taken me as far as he could, building me a network, showing me a plan and giving me all the tools I needed to be successful. But I hadn't fully committed myself. In short, I needed to make a shift: My motivation had to come from within instead of from without.

It took some time, a lot of re-reading of some of the authors that have always inspired me in this sphere -- like Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser, who will scare you off of processed and fast foods forever -- a little strategizing on my priorities, and a lot of reflection on the way my body functions. I wanted to eat food that made me feel good, I realized, but I also wanted to feel good about what I ate.

In the end, I'm back to the key components of Jamie's plan, because a high-protein diet with lots of vegetables makes me feel good, even when balanced by plenty of hedonistic eating for work. But I recommitted to local and organic foods, too, and to using my brain when it comes to making decisions about what to cook and where to eat when I'm not out doing my job.

Jamie and I made up, and I'm back in his classes with a vengeance. I still have plenty of work to do, but for the first time since I started this project, I'm feeling like I'm actually doing this because I really, really want to. I can't tell you how to get there. But I can tell you that if you're really going to make a change like this last, self-motivated desire has to be your goal.

Following the plan? The step-by-step:

- Step one: turning the corner with a high protein breakfast

- Step two: cutting the trash

- Step three: getting a handle on the booze

- Step four: the short workout key

- Step five: eat more like a food critic

- Step six: surviving a multi-course feast plus a re-feed workout video

- Step seven: staying on the wagon for the long haul

- Step eight: avoiding diet food while losing weight

- Step nine: making a St. Patrick's Day resolution

- Step ten: Creating a sustainable workout routine

- Step eleven: Dealing with the gross emotional side of weight loss

- Step twelve: Finding a fitness buddy